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Pinterest offers unique channel for individuals seeking breast cancer information

Jan 27, 2020


Social media has shown increasing promise in the area of health communication. A recent study led by Carrie A. Miller, Ph.D., M.P.H., a fellow in the NCI-funded T32 postdoctoral training program in cancer prevention and control research at VCU Massey Cancer Center and a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Health Behavior and Policy at VCU School of Medicine, provided new insights into how social media may be leveraged to disseminate credible information on cancer and communicate with the public about health topics.

Miller and her co-authors investigated breast cancer-related content on Pinterest, a visual social media platform that allows people to collect and share information on different topics. As of late 2019, Pinterest had grown to more than 300 million users

“While Pinterest is often considered a social media network primarily used for sharing recipes and home décor, an increasing body of literature supports the use of Pinterest for distributing health-related content, and to our knowledge, this is the first publication to investigate how breast cancer is presented on the platform,” said Miller. “This research is the first in a trilogy of studies that we will conduct on the topic.”

The study, published in Health Education & Behavior, analyzed a sample of nearly 500 images that were generated on Pinterest using the search keywords “breast cancer.” The inquiry focused specifically on the type of visual and textual information included in the images as well as user engagement. 

Results showed that the majority of breast cancer-related content on Pinterest contained information-dense visuals, and these types of posts were more likely to be shared by users than images that did not feature any text. The majority of the content was produced by individuals, with few postings originating from public health or government entities.

These findings highlight the potential utility of Pinterest for breast cancer-related health communication and the benefits of sharing public health information on visual social media platforms to achieve broad distribution. 

“With a predominantly female user base, Pinterest represents an untapped opportunity for public health organizations to disseminate credible information and communicate with the public about health, especially women’s health topics such as breast cancer prevention,” said Miller. 

The research findings provide formative insights and a foundation for other researchers to build upon, as well as important implications for the development of future social media promotions aimed at reducing cancer risk and promoting survivorship.

Miller collaborated on this research with Jeanine Guidry, Ph.D., assistant professor and director at the Media + Health Lab at the VCU Robertson School of Media and Culture, and Bernard Fuemmeler, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate director for cancer prevention and control and the Gordon D. Ginder, M.D., Chair in Cancer Research at VCU Massey Cancer Center and professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Policy at VCU School of Medicine. 

This study was supported by awards GTDR14302086 from Susan G. Komen and 2T32CA093423 from the National Cancer Institute.

Written by: Melissa Mitchell

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